Wake Up, Philippines!

Other issues in ‘right of reply’

Posted in Legislation, Media by Erineus on March 11, 2009

FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa Updated March 08, 2009 12:00 AM

All the talk on the right of reply is focused on its “attack on freedom of the press”. At first glance, it seems a conflict between politicians and journalists. But dig deeper, and you will find other issues. It is not black and white but with many colors.

Something is amiss. Just as important, if not more important, are different players like poorly paid journalists (one of the lowest in the region), the owners of the media (media oligarchs) in which they write and broadcast, and politicians aspiring for power and just as avaricious. It looks more like a mélange of interests elbowing for advantage.

They tell the same story of how democracy operates on the ground. It is certainly not black or white. Neither is it between freedom vs. responsibility of the press. It is my opinion that the debate on right of reply goes beyond all this. There are factors that may not be obvious to the naked eye or to the conformist mind but are as relevant, if not more relevant than the issue of freedom vs. responsibility of the press that others make it out to be.

Did the leaders of Congress have any choice but to back down from further discussing and approving the Right of Reply bill? If they did not they might have to swallow more than they bargained for. Better to stay on the side of “the prudence of conformity” than face the substantial problem at stake. It’s a cop-out.

* * *

Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia announced to media that the RORB has been overtaken by events. What events? “Congressmen don’t want to touch it, it’s now frozen.” See what I mean? There will be no plenary in the House even if the Senate has already approved the bill. By all means consult with media groups, that’s part of the democratic debate.

On the other hand Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the bill’s principal author, says he’s open to compromise to make it more acceptable to media. “It’s balancing the freedom of the press with the right of the people to defend themselves,” he said.

As for journalists carrying their protests in the streets. (Ok din yon! ) Whenever I have a chance I tell colleagues that in a trip to South Korea I asked journalists how much they were paid. I was told that their pay follows the rate in other industries. Maybe that is where members of media can focus their efforts — that they get better paid commensurate to their ability and the risks they take.

This perspective will reveal another player in this conflict of interests that has remain unscathed despite the damage it has caused to our country’s nation-building. That player is called big business with the money and clout to use media to advance or protect their interests.

Flawed media in the Philippines has not gone unnoticed by other countries in the region. Moreover irresponsible media, unlike corruption in government has escaped blame precisely because freedom of the press is invoked whenever it is called into question.

Yet few will deny that the same freedom of the press can be a licentious corporate tool and one of the reasons why the Philippines is unable to match the progress in other countries in the region. “Freedom of the press” covers a multitude of sins, one of them is how it has brought about a weak state in the Philippines.

Media oligarchs use “freedom of the press” to block reforms or worse attempt to bring down governments if these go against their interests. Big businesses look to owning a newspaper, radio or television as an advantage over their competitors.

I have often been asked by colleagues in other countries in the region why media in the Philippines is “too involved” in high level politics at the expense of community issues more relevant to the reading public.

* * *

Admittedly it is not just about ownership of media that often distorts responsible reporting. Deadlines and space restrictions, ideology, balance and impartiality, PR agencies — all interweave in media play in the Philippines. Guardians of the freedom of the press are loathe to admit that often the independent journalist has to maneuver through this shoals of difficulties just to be able to be published. Neither is the Philippines the only country with problems on the ownership of media.

It is true the world over that corporations rule over media. While there are intrepid investigative journalists, they are often limited to mega deals and profits that do not affect their owners.

The problem with flawed media is it restricts critical thinking. And it can be just as partisan as the politicians they deride.

Journalists like to think they have a sense of mission but are stopped by what a wise analyst called “relentless tabloidization”, meaning to give only the kind of journalism that sells.

As for time and space, some newsrooms are filled with young, inexperienced journalists without backgrounds on the articles they write, with no time to read yet to obliged to multitask and meet merciless deadlines. They work 12 or 14 hours a day for meager salaries. Do you wonder why the envelope is hard to refuse even with the best of intentions?

I remember that while on exile in London, I read about a unique newspaper that did not oblige their correspondents to send stories every day. They had to absorb the essence of the society of the country in which they were assigned, live it and know the people that inhabit it. That way when a newsworthy event breaks out, they will report accurately and wisely.

As to balance and impartiality these have been thrown out of the window. For example, the reading public has come to accept it is difficult to find media reports on anything good about the Arroyo administration. It has long been demonized and therefore cannot do good and this with the help of surveys calculated to promote hatred against it. All this, and the campaign for 2010 has not even formally begun.

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=446547&publicationSubCategoryId=64

Right to reply: legislative blackmail

Posted in Congress, Constitutional Rights, Legislation, Media, Right To Information by Erineus on March 6, 2009

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:45:00 03/05/2009

The Right of Reply Bill seeks to enhance the access to the mass media of the people “who feel aggrieved by stories or commentaries which may be biased, inaccurate, and unfair to them,” according to its sponsors.

In his sponsorship speech, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the bill was drafted “in response to the frequent complaints of people who are the subjects of defamatory articles over the refusal or failure of newspapers or broadcast networks to present their side.”

“If the press has the right to offend or to mortify, the people should have the right to reply,” Pimentel said, emphasizing that the freedom of the press “is not the monopoly of members of the press.”

When Pimentel speaks of expanding the right to reply to “the people” who are offended by media reports, we have to ask, who are the people who are mortified and offended by these reports? Clearly, from verifiable evidence, Pimentel appears to be referring to a tiny segment of the people—the political elite, to which he belongs — who are mortified by media reports holding the power-holders accountable for their official acts and abuses in public office.

The right of reply bill seeks to protect a certain group of politically privileged citizens from media reports that expose abuses and corruption of officials. The poor, the underprivileged and the disadvantaged have no reason to complain or to clamor for the right to reply against newspaper reports simply because they have never been the targets or victims of media attacks. The media have historically and traditionally been on the side of the underdogs, who are abused and oppressed by power holders (including legislators, executive officials, police, security forces, bureaucrats). Unlike the power-holders and functionaries with public authority, the media have not bullied and trampled underfoot the underdogs of society. These are the groups which, according to the creed of President Ramon Magsaysay, have less in life and should have more in law.

The politically and socially disadvantaged comprise the majority of the population. They cannot see the relevance of these bills to the exercise of their freedom of speech, especially to join protests against corruption of the elites and the violence of security authorities in suppressing these protests. They cannot understand the concerns of the political elites, such as Pimentel and Rep. Monico Puentevella and those who have endorsed their bills, over media reports exposing abuses of power.

Consequently, there is no way Pimentel’s Senate Bill 2150 and Puentevella’s House Bill 3306 can benefit the underdogs — the victims of abuses of power by the elites. These bills are irrelevant to the underdogs because they have no use for this legislation. These bills are elitist and anti-poor in the sense that they would muzzle the media from denouncing the abuses and corruption of the political elites and curtail the right and responsibility of the media to expose wrongdoing in public office.

Pimentel is making false claims when he says that his bill extends the right of reply to “the people.” In reality, he is referring to a narrow segment of the people, who are already enjoying the legislative privilege of immunity from which the rest of “the people” are excluded. The bill expands the elite’s platform to attack private citizens and groups, as it curtails the freedom of editors to determine the stories they publish or broadcast. The bills grab space from private media to accommodate replies of offended persons, mostly legislators and other power holders, reacting to media attacks centered on public issues.

The political elites have closed ranks behind these bills to gang up on the media. This is a bad sign. The Senate, which is not always a bulwark of press freedom despite senators’ claim to be champions of civil liberties, has passed Senate Bill 2150 in a disgraceful 21-0 vote. The House of Representatives is reported to be sending back House Bill 3306 to the committee on information for review and amendments after further dialogue with media representatives. These steps, claimed to be in observance of “democratic process” in legislation, do not alter the fact that the media face an uphill struggle in getting Congress to kill the legislation. Legislators have warned the media against taking a hardline position, which is that the media cannot compromise their constitutionally-protected freedom to publish stories unfettered by legislated prior-restraint censorship. Indeed, despite all these appearances of a developing compromise, the conflict has hit an impasse.

It does not bode well for a resolution that the chair of the House committee on information, Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. has issued a veiled threat that journalists faced dire violent consequences if the media insisted in blocking the right of reply bill. “If you can’t ventilate in writing,” Abante said, “what will a person do but assassinate the journalist? If we include this [provision], it might drastically reduce such incidents.” He was referring to the scores of journalists killed during the past few years.

This is a false assumption. This statement is no different from the Mafia warning that if you interfered in the bootleg racket you would be riddled with submachine-gun bullets.

Unfortunately, many congressmen share this view. They are attracted to a solution that offers facile explanation to the orgy of assassinations of provincial journalists who attacked local officials for wrongdoing. The publication of replies could not have averted the assassinations. The reasons for the killings are complex.

This orgy of killings cannot be stopped by legislative blackmail on the right of reply bill.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090305-192554/Right-to-reply-legislative-blackmail

Lame concession

Posted in Censorship, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Editorial, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 27, 2009

Members of media have taken an unequivocal stand against the right-to-reply bill. The proposal to require print and broadcast journalists to give equal space or time to those who wish to defend themselves against attacks, actual or perceived, is seen as unnecessary and an assault on press freedom.

Now comes Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, claiming he is listening and is open to making concessions.

Pimentel has come up with the idea of imposing fines instead of jail time for journalists found violating the right-to-reply rule. “We want to be reasonable,” he says.

Apparently, the senator remains unreasonable.

The dilemma is not between going behind bars and shelling out money for fines. Last we looked, the libel law—existing and working well, by the way—still carries the pain of imprisonment. In spite of this, the accusations keep on coming; stories we see, hear and read every day are anything but sanitized.

The bill’s inherent flaw is that it strikes at the heart of journalists’ sense of fairness. The presumption is that everybody in the business is mindful of the ethics that govern the profession. Those who overstep the bounds are aberrations, and there is a law that takes care of this, as well. The industry, for its part, can find ways to raise its standards. But it must be left alone.

Enough arguments have been put forth. Sadly, what we are seeing now are either face-saving acts by those who supported the bill but later on realized they needed friends in the media, or the obstinacy of some who claim to listen but really only want to have their way.

If the lawmakers are truly listening, they must realize that scrapping the bill altogether is the only reasonable step.

‘Media should regulate selves’–CHR

Posted in Censorship, Constitutional Rights, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 27, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — The controversial right of reply bill pending could be an “undue intrusion” into the rights of media, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima said on Thursday.

Instead of passing a bill that would require media outfits to publish the reply of parties offended by reports or commentaries, lawmakers said the media should be allowed to “self regulate.”

“I always believe that it should be self-regulation by media, no legislation is needed. Self-regulation is the best tack,” De Lima said at a press conference in Camp Crame.

But De Lima refused to provide more details of the CHR’s stand on the issue, saying they will be releasing an official statement on the matter soon.

Media organizations and outfits on Monday launched a campaign against the passage of the bill, calling it an “act of terrorism against the media” and a violation of the Constitution.

The Senate passed its version of the measure, principally authored by Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., last year, while House Bill 3306 filed by Bacolod Representative Monico Puentevella is pending in the lower chamber.

Both bills seek to require that media publish or air the reply of a party offended by a news story in the same space and with the same prominence as the offending story and carry sanction, including hefty fines and, in the House version, jail time, for those who fail to comply.

For his part, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Jesus Verzosa said they respect the code of ethics practiced by the media.

“But also we must have to consider also the wisdom that is being forwarded by our legislators as to why they came up with that proposed bill for the right of reply, so we will wait for the outcome of the processing of the proposed bill of the right of reply,” he said.

By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 17:06:00 02/26/2009

The right to edit

Posted in Censorship, Constitutional Rights, Legislation by Erineus on February 27, 2009

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. challenged his “friends in the media” to offer him a “reasoned argument” against his right of reply bill, which has passed third reading in the Senate. We are not sure if the burden of proof, so to speak, falls on the media; Pimentel’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., for example, gives us all the proof we need that, in the wrong hands, a right to reply law does pose a grave danger to our civil liberties.

Pimentel offers a much more solid argument for a right of reply law, as an expansion of the freedom of the press. As a lawyer, however, Pimentel knows that God (or the devil, depending on which quotation one prefers) is in the details.

And the details are revealing indeed. No distinction between news and opinion (thus killing, in one swoop, the entire tradition of fair comment). No consideration of the cost of reply (thus weighing down news organizations, very few of which actually turn a profit, with an onerous financial burden). And no regard for industry discipline (thus ignoring, sweepingly, decades of practice at self-regulation).

The core of the issue, however, is this: What we have in the right of reply bill (as formulated in Senate Bill 2150, for example) is the right to edit.

Readers scan a newspaper regularly, viewers tune in to a newscast daily, listeners turn to the radio news broadcast hourly, in part because they trust the editors and directors and producers — in short, the news managers — who do the job. The same pattern of trust can be discerned in the emerging media: The most popular websites and the most influential blogs have distinct personalities (in the case of blogs, quite literally).

To choose an example near to Pimentel’s heart: Let us say that in the not-too-distant future, a practiced attention-getter decides that the martial-law era did not in fact happen; that the arrests of Benigno Aquino and Jose Diokno and countless others (including, yes, Pimentel) did not in fact take place; that oppositionists were not in fact tortured and dissidents were not in fact killed. An impossible proposition? Not at all — as the cautionary growth of the Holocaust-denial industry, despite the universe of evidence, should warn us.

Under a right of reply regime, no good deed goes unpunished. Any criticism of a martial-law denier must be paid back in full, with the denier enjoying equal treatment. Even if a newspaper or a TV network or a radio station had already painstakingly shown, perhaps through a comprehensive special report, that martial law did in fact happen and many thousands were in fact left victimized, each news organization would be obliged, under penalty of law, to grant the denier space or airtime equal to the criticism, each time his patent nonsense is criticized.

Does anyone think this is an ideal state of affairs?

News managers — editors, news directors, executive producers — have the duty to judge what is newsworthy. That is part of the unwritten contract readers and viewers and listeners and users enter into. Under a right-of-reply regime, however, a news manager’s duty to spare her audience from the insanity of a martial-law denier is undermined. Indeed, in complying with the strictures of such a law, she will be compelled to propagate the very nonsense she ought to protect her audience from.

Is this an isolated, unlikely case? Not at all — as the shameless growth of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s double-speak factory, despite or perhaps because of its lack of credibility, should tell us.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita wants us to believe that President Arroyo did not snub the EDSA People Power I anniversary rites last Wednesday; she merely had a full schedule. We have the duty to report this statement, of course; on paper it does not look as insane as it sounds. But did no one in Malacañang realize that the anniversary always falls on February 25? It is our bounden duty to point out the inconsistency in Malacañang’s statement, the political savvy behind Malacañang’s use of holidays to mark anniversaries or holidays it welcomes — and thus the hypocrisy in Malacañang’s position on EDSA People Power.

Under a right of reply regime, the media’s constitutionally protected responsibility to sift information from misinformation falls victim to the most flattering form of insincerity: mere lip service.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:26:00 02/27/2009

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090227-191261/The-right-to-edit